People often lament how the world of politics has very little to do with the ordinary lives of real people. For some parents, at least, that’s about to change.
From September, all infant school children will be entitled to a free school meal. Across the country, children from all backgrounds will sit down together to a nutritious, healthy free lunch, fuelling concentration and learning.
The strength of this policy is shown by its cross-party support, described by ministers as the "rarest of political treasures". Thanks to the support of local authorities and the support of ministers in this and the previous Government, we have compelling and proven evidence of the educational, social and economic benefits of universal free school meals:
• Boosting educational attainment across the board When universal free school meals were piloted in Newham and Durham, pupils made 4 to 8 weeks more progress over the two year pilot than pupils in other areas, according to the Department for Education evaluation.
• Ending the stigma of poverty Kids tell us that getting a free school lunch can make them feel different and poor. Not only can this lead to stigma and bullying for children, but it can also mean that families chose not to take up the meals to which they are entitled and children simply skipping lunch
• Encouraging healthy eating Only 1% of packed lunches meet the basic nutritional criteria that all school meals are required to. Universal free school meals is a great way to help children to eat healthily and tackle childhood obesity.
• Helping families tackle food poverty One in five parents have skipped meals so their children can eat and eight per cent of parents say their children have had to miss meals because they cannot afford to buy food, according to an Ipsos Mori poll. Providing a healthy, free meal in the middle of the day would help tackle child hunger and allow parents to spend more on breakfast and dinner.
• Enabling families to take up paid jobs by cutting the costs of working At present, families who move into work then have to start paying for school meals. On average school meals cost £9.63 per week or £386 per year per child. This can have a big effect on how much better off a family will be working, particularly for families with several school age children.
As excited as we are by all infant school children now being entitled to a free school meal, this is only the first step. We want to see all school children receiving a free school meal, and that’s why we want:
• Political parties to commit to expanding universal free school meal provision after the election
• Boroughs to follow the excellent lead of Islington, Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets and provide universal free school meals to all primary school children
You can also read the Let's all have lunch! campaign report